For supporters of traditional marriage, 2004 was quite a roller-coaster ride. A series of court decisions ? in Hawaii, Alaska and Vermont, but most infamously in Massachusetts, where the Supreme Judicial Court declared that bans on same-sex "marriage" are "rooted in persistent prejudices against persons who are ... homosexual" ? were still sending shock waves throughout the country. Officials in San Francisco began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Suddenly we found ourselves arguing about the nature of an institution that, quite frankly, is the very bedrock of our civilization. And many advocates of so-called "gay rights" were only too happy to foment an attitude of lawlessness on the issue. Their goal: Turn same-sex "marriage" into a full-fledged civil right that then would have to be recognized at the highest levels of government.
The result, of course, would have been chaos. As my Heritage Foundation colleague Matthew Spalding put it in a Feb. 26, 2004, op-ed for the Washington Times, judges would have to "disregard thousands of years of custom and experience, flout the laws of every major society and thumb their noses at the beliefs of every major religious tradition."
Many of us who realized how devastating such an outcome would be ? that it would wreak havoc on all the other institutions that hold our country together ? began insisting that the only way to protect marriage was a constitutional amendment. But when the U.S. Senate voted last July on whether to consider such an amendment, many senators weren't convinced that an amendment was necessary, and it failed to pass.
Then, around election season, things began to change. Amendments to protect the traditional definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman were on the ballot in 13 states (11 in November, two prior to that), and supporters of same-sex marriage pulled out the stops to defeat them. What happened? The amendments passed overwhelmingly in all 13 states. Even Oregon passed its amendment by 57 percent. And, as Spalding has noted, pro-marriage candidates won in every Senate race where marriage was a significant issue.
And let's recall the big exit-poll news of the 2004 election ? moral values. It wasn't the war on terrorism or the economy that propelled the highest number of voters to the polls. It was a deep-seated concern about the moral direction our country was taking, and the marriage issue clearly prompted most of this concern.